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In my last post I tried to emphasise the importance of democratic processes in the platforming of local government, and I did this for a couple of reasons which I just want to briefly visit before getting into what I would consider to be the main design implications.

Firstly, all the talk about (local) government as a platform seems to be about public administration and public services, rather than democracy. I don’t have a problem with that but it does tend to lead to technocratic discussions about how to optimise service delivery and that in turn leads to a focus on automating, linking and front-end technology. [Aside: If you are familiar with this debate you’ll probably have seen Mark Foden’s classic video on the Gubbins of Government – it’s a great example of how to get across something quite technical and abstract in a way that anyone can understand, in fact I think it’s a bit of a masterpiece of technical communication. However, I also think it kind of assumes that government is just about providing all the services, and that we should therefore put all our effort into finding ways to make these services more responsive, to which I say yes of course services are crucial but I think the what, why, who, where, when and how are all still very much up for grabs in the democratic conversation.]

Secondly, if you are in the business of providing public services then, how can I put this delicately, you are maybe going to view all the available user research through the service delivery lens: to be more blunt, you are going to be biased. I think that uncovering the real needs of society is quite a nuanced and sophisticated conversation, and I definitely don’t want it carried out by people with an axe to grind. Well, unless it’s my axe of course, we all have our blind spots :)

Third, I see public services being carried out by a multitude of organisations and individuals, not just government bodies. Of course, some services are, but there’s no law or orthodoxy that says that this is the best business model pattern: some services are delivered peer-peer in one area, private outsourced provider in another, commercial somewhere else, and through a staff mutual in another place. In other words, there’s nothing uniquely “local government” about delivering local public services. Of course, of the things I deal with as part of my day job, maybe 99% of that is about service delivery (perhaps there’s some reasoning there about why I want to temporarily box it off!) – I don’t exactly regard it as _noise_ but the lack of focus on core democracy is definitely something I want to tip the balance in favour of. There’s a valid point to be made about the knitting together of all the service providers into a coherent joined up user journey is exactly what the “council platform” should be doing: this is a valid point and represents where I was just a few years ago, but it isn’t the whole story, and perhaps someone else might be able to do it better than us?

Finally, it’s not news that a) turnout in local elections is low compared to general elections, and b) local government has suffered from a series of funding cuts in the last few years as the Treasury has tried to balance the books. I have a hypothesis that these two phenomena are causally linked.

So I’d like to decouple the democratic process from all that public administration/service delivery stuff and look at it in more detail to see if we can’t support it better in a platform paradigm. And now I’ve written too much for one blog post and I’m going to have to continue this train of thought later.

Revisiting the Local Government Platform

Lately there has been a batch of talk about “(local) Government as a Platform” including blogs from Dave Briggs, Gavin Beckett, Mark Thompson, and others, with video clips from John Jackson and a slide deck from Methods Digital. This all links to recent blogging about single platforms for local government websites and digital in local government generally.

All of this made me reflect on two things – my original blog posts on the topic in 2012 (and whether what I’ve done since is consistent with that vision), and whether this is all really doing what it needs to in 2015, is it solving the problem that we need to solve today.

And, to be quite blunt, I think the answer to these questions are “meh” and “no”, respectively.

From 2012:

“Local Government (in this model) is a hub. It’s purpose is to connect people (and places) with needs to people with funding to people who can provide services to help under the governance and ownership of people with the political mandate to do just that – with the aim of improving the lot of the people and places under its jurisdiction.”

I would just like it to be noted that I was, and am still, being descriptive of the purpose of local government. That is, I was thinking local government IS a platform, not local government AS a platform. I was using this as a lens to try and make sense of the industry I work in, not as an explicit design of a possible future state, although it does imply some changes to the way we do things*.

Obviously things change and move on and I am not an exception to that, so I’m here and now asking myself how the above description stacks up with my current understanding and thinking it’s ok, if a bit granular. Clearly government of all kinds has the aim of connecting people and improving stuff (although those things aren’t usually so causally linked), that’s kind of obvious but it doesn’t quite get the point. What is the unique thing that government does that no other kind of business can do?

The short answer to this might be “user research”. Every council employs – by statute – at least a dozen people that do user research, they get performance managed every four years and regularly get fired if they are a bit crap. Our councillors don’t always use the same methods as professional user research teams but they are seriously committed and highly visible and work to the same ends.

Of course, plenty of commercial operations do user research as well, but the difference is that when councils (or indeed governments generally) do it then it is a public conversation. People canvas the views of local people about what their priorities should be, then formulate these views into policy documents (“manifestos”) and everyone gets to vote on which person and policy document is the best: the winner then gets to try and make these priorities a reality, with the conversations around this being made public immediately, and their policy work is scrutinised and held up to public account. If people don’t like the results then 4 years later they’ll be fired and another mixture of policy priorities will be voted in.

The GDS mantra since day one: “What is the user need?” – I would say that government exists to uncover and highlight the (sometimes rapidly) changing needs of its citizens and the places they live in via an ongoing public conversation. Local Government is a platform when – and only when – it enables those conversations and allows a variety of organisations to design services to satisfy those needs, but the choice and delivery of those services – including design decisions around digital services – is a tactical one. It’s the conversation that uncovers the needs that is core to Government, not the services.

So perhaps we don’t need to spend lots of money on new technology, we just need to listen to what people are already telling us and find better ways of reflecting it. Better conversations lead to better targeting of services (not just ours either) and, ultimately, better results.

For these reasons I think that the conversation about “local government as a platform” shouldn’t be a conversation about technology or even about business models, when it should be about democracy and finding ways to support the work of active citizens – our councillors, voluntary sector organisations, businesses, families and agencies – specifically linking them to data insights, and giving them direct control over more levers of power to make them more relevant and give them more power to uncover user needs.

In the process we need to become more platform-like – but by changing our working practices and culture, not just by installing software. We in local government need to be the platform, not just build it.

I want to blog a bit more about this in the coming weeks, but obviously would welcome the chance to broaden this conversation out. I’m an IT bod, not a political theorist.


* Specifically, articulating this description led me to do a number of things:

  • look at the use of data and intelligence in this context, specifically to support councillors (with Lucy Knight, who is taking this forward)
  • establish a local ODI Node to help the whole community benefit from public data resources
  • look at prototyping different public business models
  • support the implementation of integration technologies to help knit web services together
  • specify open data and APIs in standard procurement specifications
  • get involved in a small way in a number of specific procurements with the aim of improving the openness of the chosen solutions.

One of the great things about going to GovCamp is that you never have to apologise for talking about stuff that might cause people in your regular working environment to look at you blankly. And since I’d travelled up to London with one of those niggling “what if?” questions in my head it felt logical to pitch a session on it and see if I could find some answers.
It’s partly a bit worrying and partly a bit reassuring to know that many others at the event were as clueless as me, but also as excited as I was about the vague possibilities of something emerging in the years to come around one of the most interesting new mash-up technologies of our time: the Blockchain.
Now, you may not know what this is. You may have heard of the virtual currency Bitcoin – and if not, you might enjoy reading the comprehensive FAQ  on it – suffice to say that it is blockchain technology that underpins Bitcoin and its many brother and sister alt-currencies. Personally I think Bitcoin is interesting but not interesting enough for me to actually own some. It is the block chain that I find most fascinating because it can formally encode a kind of distributed networked governance.

OK, so that’s a kind of a mouthful as well. I’ll try and unpack this.

The BitCoin block chain forms a kind of transaction log of all the things that have been bought and sold using the virtual currency. and it does this without a central authority controlling it. I have been wondering what other things might be similarly persuaded to work with a central authority controlling them. If money can be controlled without a central bank, then the sky is the limit – all publc services, the people who work there, all the things communities need, all can – in theory – be easily organised and accounted for without the controlling bureaucracy of a local council, for example. It doesn’t mean that the council doesn’t get involved, it just means that technology takes those bits out that don’t add any value.

And here’s where I start to get all starry-eyed and the people who know me well say things like “yes, dear, would you like a hot chocolate? You seem tired.” Obviously there’s a number of logical leaps I’ve made there without the wretched inconvenience of having to test any of them on real situations.

So back to #ukgc15 and the session I pitched. I had a good turnout at it – nearly 20 people, with not many dropouts. It became clear that there wasn’t a huge technical understanding of blockchain tech in the room (a really good primer can be found here: ) but all concerned went away having pledged to read up on it and we started to think of some early use cases. It also emerged that one council (I won’t name them, they can add a comment if they wish to be identified) were already accepting Bitcoin in payment for some services. Early potential use cases included:

  • community-run libraries
  • e-portfolios for education and training
  • activity logging for staff
  • open data transaction records
  • De-centralised identity (already here in the form on OneName)

We wanted things that weren’t too critical as a failure couldn’t mean a crisis for anyone. There is code already on Github (link) to create a so-called “genesis block” and start your own blockchain. I’m thinking of prototyping one or more of these use cases and seeing what the limitations and opportunities are.

There’s much more in the live-blog of the session (thank you Terence Eden you are a star) and also on the session hashtag


I went to Local GovCamp in Birmingham on the 20/21st June 2014. While I was there I picked up a framework for reflective practise from Esko Reinikainen and so I’ve decided to use that to order my thoughts.

Here’s @reinikainen‘s list of reflective practice questions #localgovcamp

1. What did I learn?

Too much to fit into one post. The plans some people have, the ideas that are floating around, the reading-between-the-lines of certain people in the sector, the way I react to pressure, the layout of Birmingham city centre, some of our industrial heritage, and much much much more. In fact you learn so much in a short space of time that you get what I call “govcamp lag” – your mind has moved so quickly it takes your body a couple of days to catch up with it.

2. How will I behave differently?

Early evidence suggests I’ll be slightly more focussed and a bit more impatient. I hope I’ll be more effective on multiple levels and more confident as a result of my experiences but this is not a certainty just yet.

3. What held me back?

Not much. I’m much more wholehearted than I used to be although lack of certainty over the direction things are taking occasionally surfaces – but this is part and parcel of working with a strategy label. I need to lose the worry of what might happen and make things happen instead.

4. What surprised me?

My confidence at handling the Open Data session – I couldn’t have done that in the way I did a few months ago. Probably the PS Launchpad prepared me well for this (and in general, there were similarities in feel between the two experiences).

5. What got in my way?

The usual local government tendency of talking rather than action exists even at a govcamp, and we tend to broaden conversations rather than narrow and focus them into action. I need to do better at this and probably need to recite something to myself mantra-like on an hourly basis until my thick skull gets the frigging message.

6. What happened today that gave me a glimpse of the future?

I pitched an idea at a complete stranger and they didn’t ignore me or walk away. This happened more than once. If I am to be effective, stating my ideas confidently must be the cornerstone of my approach or I should just go back to putting the lids on gateaux on a factory production line (which was my first proper job).

7. What frustrated me?

I still pussy-foot around too much.  See #5.

8. What did I do today that I do every day?

Woke up at 5am,  argued pointlessly once or twice, and didn’t produce anything.

9. What did I let go of today?

The untouchability of certain individuals. There is no-one in our sector with all the answers, I don’t think it’s mathematically possible.

10. What will I do tomorrow?

I have a plan but I don’t want to talk about it just yet.



People who retweet all their mentions. Who only follow you if you follow them back. Who only like your blog post if it mentions them.  Who set up second accounts so they can retweet and recommend themselves. Who only read something if it affects them directly. Who only vote for their tribe, their interests, their ideology. Who retweet their Follow Friday mentions. People who wrestle everything into their agenda. Who ignore anything they can’t relate to their agenda. Who care more about what they are doing for you than for you.

People like me (and, statistically, probably like you as well). I recently listened to an entire hour of a podcast because I was told I got a mention in it. It was bollocks. Not sure why I did that, or why I care. I’m probably only curious about myself.

Narcissism seems completely part of the fabric of society now. Maybe it always has been, but social media amplifies its visibility: the default tabs on the standard Twitter client – Home, Notifications, Messages, Me – reinforce the use of the platform as a narcissistic tool. If you follow more than a couple hundred people, “Home” overflows so you are more likely to see your notifications than you are to see tweets from others. Using lists aggressively, as I do, is the only way to follow more people and keep sane, but this isn’t a prominent feature of the platform. So we are gradually enticed to track our notifications more than the “content tweets” of others.

Blog like no-one’s reading. Because, you know, they probably aren’t.

It was almost a throwaway line in a previous post about how the PS Launchpad accelerator compared to other types of learning and development that councils might benefit from. However, one of the biggest things that this process has done is in terms of what it has done to me as an individual and (perhaps) as a manager.

Obviously reflection takes time – proper time – and so particularly the things around management and leadership skills will need the feedback from my team to help me accurately gauge, so I’ll gloss over those for the time being. Suffice to say I think its been quite game-changing in a number of ways.


Proper professionals. No, really.

Originally I wrote a load of stuff about me here, but I’ve decided largely to keep that to myself. Suffice to say that all the crazy stuff you read on the Internet about self-development is true – but you have to live it, not just read about it, to fully absorb the learning.

So this post is instead about my network: both the people I met – the crew, founders, mentors, and others – and the people I already knew who helped us on the way, it’s no exaggeration to say that a person’s network is the difference between success and failure in any context. You genuinely can’t do everything yourself, no matter how awesome you are, because the modern world rewards specialization. I discovered that some people I already knew were shockingly good at what they did, way above anything I could comprehend, and I met some amazing people who will hopefully remain friends for a long time. So in no particular order…

All the other founders on the programme – this group of amazing people provided me with laughter, support and benchmarking throughout. All of them will go on to great things, and some of them are there already. They all helped in some way or another so I won’t single anyone out publically.

The crew – Marc, Lucy, Daniel and Alison – these were the people who made the programme happen on the ground. Whether mediating in a crisis between founders, organising around the changing requirements we all kept having, chasing up partners or suppliers who weren’t delivering, using their networks to give us the edge through access to influential people, keeping our spirits up through setbacks – these guys did it all. They were coaches, mentors, surrogate parents, organisers and plenty more besides.

Dom Potter from Solve, and Carrie and Dom from FutureGov – I never worked out the relationship between the two organisations but that didn’t matter in the end. These were the prime movers of the programme (as far as I could tell) and we got a lot of support, especially around fitting the programme ideas into a local government context.

Everyone who delivered a session as part of the taught programme – I don’t think we were an especially easy group of people to teach although we were all motivated to learn. :) Also a special mention for Mary McKenna, who spoke at our dinner one week and who helped our project out immensely and is continuing to do so.

All the mentors – some are mentioned on this page, but by no means all (and I think some of the mentors on that page also dropped out). We had particularly good help from Zoe Cunningham, Ben Unsworth, Simon Parker, David McNulty and Laurence McCahill as well as good insights from Indy Johar and Joost Beunderman.

Some people who weren’t affiliated with the programme but helped us get our heads straight or introduced us to yet more interesting people include Dave Briggs, Liz Stevenson, Francine Bennett, Richard Sage, Matt Leach, Lior Smith, Simon Gough, Ann Kempster, Mark Braggins, Steve Peters, Mike Thacker, and the LGA LG-Inform team.

We had solid, professional, practical help from the developers at Cosmic, as well as world class branding consulting by Anne McCrossan, graphics by Jane Skelton, and some project management challenge from Hannah Tucker – most of the work of these people has yet to see the light of day, which is a tantalising thought :)

The support I’ve had from the mothership has been exceptional, especially from my team – Marisa Smyth, Diane Demeger, David Murch, John Higgs and Vicky Forbes-Perry – and peers Chris Outram, Carl Haggerty and Sara Cretney. Senior management – Richard Carter, Rob Parkhouse, John Smith and Phil Norrey – have been pretty cool too.

I may have missed some people off. Ping me and I’ll add you :)

There is a Twitter list containing founders, mentors and associated people from the programme – all the people on that list and those mentioned in this post are definitely worth a follow.


Finally, working with Lucy has been a lot of fun. Long may it continue :)

And that is all my blogging from the Public Service Launchpad Accelerator. I hope it’s been useful and/or entertaining. To find out what happens next, follow our project on Twitter. Or the website. Although that’s all the blogging for now, this isn’t about an end but a beginning. Once you start a “thing” it sticks to you forever.

In the introductory post about our experiences on the Public Service Launchpad Accelerator I said that a startup is designed to search for a repeatable and scalable business model, (actually a quote from Steve Blank). Here I just want to outline why I think this is important for local government and how an accelerator programme might facilitate some of the change we need.

It won’t be news to anyone reading this in 2014 that local councils are in the grip of a funding squeeze. I’m not going to get into politics – it’s worth mentioning that the squeeze is as much demographic as it is political – but the fact is that all councils are losing a significant proportion of their budgets over the term of this, and next, parliaments – but that demand for the services they provide is rising.

Previously, councils have responded to this by getting more efficient, but there are limits to how far this can go. We had already had annual efficiency targets under previous governments for several years and local government was already running pretty lean in my experience, especially compared to central government. So the current round of funding reductions looks set to mean that front-line services will be cut and consultations are already in place where I live to make this happen.

So far, so not good. But two things are not always in the equation at times like this – the outcomes that are intended to result from the service (as distinct from the service itself), and the capacity that already exists outside of the council to make those same outcomes happen. If we were to take a large step back and ask

  • what is the problem we are trying to solve
  • who are we trying to solve it for
  • what resources do we already have
  • what resources do our communities already have
  • who benefits from a solution and how might that benefit be shared
  • who else might be involved in creating a solution

and then try some different, small-scale, things using completely different patterns – well then, we might discover ways to reduce the demand on local government services and improve lives for more people overall.

Under our accelerator programme our initial idea got tested and we were challenged about both whether the idea itself was any good (and this challenge led to us changing our idea more than once) and about how we were going about executing on it. This led us to validate, adapt and flex the different possible business models around the idea, to try different things and see if they stuck, to canvas completely external viewpoints. We explored different ways to fund the idea such as crowdfunding, and we were challenged to find alternatives to managing the demand that we perceived the idea was based on.

In other words, all of the above, and quite efficiently too. Of course, there are lots of programmes that try to do this already. We have things like systems thinking which have exactly the same aims, and these approaches are all good – this is just another way of tackling it.

So if I was a Chief Exec of a local council right now I might be asking all my service areas to test their services through a process like this, and I would bring in outside viewpoints as much as I could – some expert and some lay – and I would hope to see MVPs that looked very different from the current service offerings and really did offer some fresh thinking. The details of the programme might look very different in a purely council context but the fundamentals – build, test, learn, repeat – would remain unchanged.

There is undoubtedly a tension between existing Council culture and the sort of thinking and process that accelerators typify. I don’t personally believe that there will be another PS Launchpad that involves local government in the same way. I think we are more likely to see a specifically local government version of it instead and this is something I would strongly advocate and be keen to be involved with in some capacity.

Next: personal reflections

I think it’s probably fair to say that when we started on the Public Sector Launchpad programme we didn’t know what the end looked like. We knew we wanted to have a go at it and see what happened and we knew that we wanted to create a successful “thing”, whatever that turned out to be.

As far as we knew, this was the first accelerator programme to feature local government teams (there were 4 in total on PS Launchpad) and so we didn’t have any existing practice to copy. Quite early on, we had a conversation with each other and made a pact that we would just see how it went and do whatever we could to get the programme to yield up as much value as possible for our sector.bizcards

The first hurdles were internal and centred around carving out enough time and space to attend the programme. For me, this meant my long-suffering team got the dubious benefit of a load of work delegated to them and the promise that I would largely leave them alone to get on with it. I was always at the other end of the phone but to their immense credit they seem to have risen to the challenge superbly and I was hardly ever interrupted outside of the Mondays and Fridays I was still spending in the office. I also put in a load of extra hours to get right on top of email (I used a variant of Owen Barder’s system with an addition which basically involved turning my work into projects and then delegating them all) before the programme started.

The second – and biggest – challenge was around the business model. We had been asked by the Launchpad team to set up a company, which would then receive seed funding in the form of a loan. There was immediate concern back at the mothership that the council would be liable for any losses the company incurred, but this was clearly not the case so swiftly dealt with. Of more concern were three things: the potential conflicts of interest between the company and the council (we remain full-time employees), the prospect of one or both of us leaving to run the company full-time (and the council having basically subsidised that), and the reputation of the council in terms of what it was allowing its staff to do.

We could, of course, have dealt with these issues by simply not doing the programme, but we looked at those risks and felt that they were manageable:

  • Local Government has mature ways of handling potential conflicts of interest where council officers (or members) have interests in external companies, and any deviation from the code of conduct is a disciplinary offence
  • We gave assurances that we wouldn’t be leaving the council. Our main concern was that other council staff would be able to have similar opportunities in the future and we felt that if we left then those opportunities would be closed off to others
  • Since the programme was effectively externally funded the only contribution being made by the council was in the form of our time. As such it compares well with other career development activities in terms of cost and crams an incredible amount of learning into a short space of time.
  • In addition, the council gets a tangible, tested idea that may be commercially viable and produce a financial return on its investment, a way of doing something better, or some other kind of social impact.
  • At the very least, it produces a new way of looking at an existing council problem (more on this in a later post).

Despite the obvious ways of managing these risks, it’s still a bit nerve-wracking to do something as novel as this and take full responsibility for it. I lost count of the restless nights I spent worrying about whether I’d done the right thing. In the final analysis, though, I believe deeply that local government needs ways to change and ways to help its officers become more commercially minded and this is possibly one of the best, quickest, and cheapest way of doing it. To be honest I’m even a bit cautious about saying this publicly but it’s the truth and if others want to do similar programmes, which I hope is the case, they need to know the facts.

If you happen to be reading this as someone who has the chance to do one of these programmes in future, I strongly recommend you don’t let this derail you, but definitely start with the end in mind – ask what do your exit models look like? About half way through the programme we drew up a matrix showing what would be the various options for continuing with the project (or dropping it) once the accelerator programme finished. A simplified version is shown below.

the various exit business models (click for bigger version or contact me to talk about it)

The various exit business models (click for bigger version or contact me to talk about it)

To a large extent producing a successful idea gives you more options and takes the pressure off your host council as there is less risk.

The final reflection I’d make as a local government person on this programme is that focus is everything. Too often in my professional life as a council employee I have witnessed scope or mission creep and seen how some in the sector (completely inadvertently) have a tendency to water down your vision or broaden conversations out. On a programme like this those sorts of conversations are lethal – it’s a narrowing and execution space, not one for wide-ranging discussions. Seeing when these things are happening and giving them both their allotted space – and no more – is a massively critical success factor.

Next: wider lessons for local government from accelerator programmes

The thing that really differentiates the Public Service Launchpad from other accelerator programmes is that teams are required to be building things that have a social purpose. As local government officers, we already have lots of that – it goes with the territory – but as with the product development there was a process of focusing that we went through to allow the specific social purpose of our project to emerge.

Partly this mirrors some of the steps we took in product development and is about understanding what is not happening that should be. And partly it is about taking a deliberately different view of something you already know about to challenge the way it is being done now. Both of these things happened to us – largely unconsciously – as we worked away on our product development. When we looked at existing data products, for example, it was immediately clear that applications for people without high levels of IT literacy were quite thin on the ground, and that the open data movement had a focus on creating and releasing data sets without necessarily worrying too much what they were being used for.

Just as traditional business development had a “build it and they will come” mentality and traditional software development has a top-down “waterfall” ethos, so our initial approaches to open data seemed very traditional. We seemed to want Government to just release its data and surely some clever people out there would do great things with it.

About half way through the programme my co-founder Lucy was involved with a hackathon that the council provided some data sets to. A lot of effort had gone into persuading the data custodian to open the data, it was good quality and – we thought – valuable. But the developers weren’t interested in it. Similarly, I don’t know the statistics but I feel sure that too few of the data sets on are used for public benefit (and how are we tracking this anyway?).

There are two problems with this: firstly that there is a lot of waste (as people open data sets that never get used), and secondly that it skews the use cases of open data in favour of business (as only data sets that can be monetised get used, and only then by people who already have money). We aren’t against open data at all on any level: we just think that we aren’t making the best of it.

In a nutshell, we think that something more like a design approach (understanding what communities need, opening the data in a way that they can use it, testing this with them and iterating for continuous improvement) would result in more relevant data sets being opened for higher levels of benefit all round.

Around week 9 of the accelerator programme we started the Plain Data Campaign and, with the help of some of the programme mentors, began to think through what this meant. Crucially we needed to test it against what was already happening and ensure it was complementary to the great work that is already being done by organisations like the Open Data Institute – and lots more still needs to be done.

We’re now convinced that more effort needs to be made to work with the people we are trying to benefit to understand whether opening particular datasets is worth the trouble. We think that open datasets need to have purpose and that purpose ought to be regularly tested – otherwise the stories told by open data will be determined by those with the skills or funding – and we think that is dangerous. We think this is crucial if everyone is to benefit from the potential of data science and not just those with the brains or the money.

On our campaign blog you will find some further explanations and a sign-up form. Please sign up and help us shape the campaign for better, not just more, public data.

Next: how does a local gov team get accelerated

The previous post set out the process we used to make the product. If you did, indeed, check out the prototype you’ll undoubtedly agree with us that it needs a lot of work. Hopefully you’ll also agree that something in this area is needed because councillors are the poor relations when it comes to local government software. We also know that a lot of energy goes into supporting councillors’ information needs, and that they have a broad range of IT and data literacy which is why we are trying to create something as simple as possible.

screencapSo what comes next for the product? Well, firstly both Lucy and I go back to our day jobs now but we will still have scope to ring-fence some time to drive the idea forward. Secondly, we still have some seed funding left and we are going to use that to build the front end of a beta version of the product. We’re currently working on what we think that this will look like but we think it will be much more fully-featured than it is currently.

We want to explore links the product might be able to exploit with other software on the market like LG Inform and Citizenscape (from Public-i), and use public data stores like Socrata Open Data. I’d love to think that we could utilise a number of different other things, in fact, but the core thing that has to be understood is the “user journey” – the jobs the user needs to get done, where they need them done, when they need them done, and how.

userjourneyWe think that the concept of branding is critical to this: one of the big things I took away from the programme was the extent to which marketing drives modern businesses and how that’s not such a bad thing as I previously thought. Our product and message must promise what it delivers and deliver on its promises: this is what distinguishes successful products from also-rans. We’ve already started looking at that and will develop it further over the next few weeks.

The project is not just the product, however. During the course of the project we didn’t just create a prototype – we also were able to have a look at what was going on with the whole open data scene generally, and a significant strand of our project was thinking about ways we can tweak existing open data repositories to make them more human-friendly. We think there’s a bit of a problem with the open data movement, in fact, and I’ll talk much more about that subject in the next post.

Next: the campaign


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